National Commission on the Humanities Formed

The humanities have a hard time getting respect, if by respect you mean funding. Sure, we’re (often) the ones teaching the basic research, thinking and documentation skills that underpin the rest of a valuable education…blah blah whine. I often think that popular apathy toward the humanities, especially literature and cultural criticism, stems from the topics to which we choose to apply those important, cross-disciplinary skills. That is to say, that students often resent, say, that we are looking at the business culture of the Renaissance or the works of Theodore Dreiser or 17th-century Norwegian mysticism or whatever. Yes, these are the topics that float the boat of the instructor, who has devoted his or her life to the study of these topics. I know that I picked my areas of study, war and literature and extraordinary claims because I’m fascinated about them, but I certainly do not expect my students to love those topics with the myopic, passionate intensity that I devote to them. At the same time, however, I expect them to recognize that the research practices, habits of thought and underlying curiosity I bring to the study of, say, conspiracy theory, has value in all areas of education.

The incessant beating that the humanities seem to get as university budgets shrink fundamentally undermine the mission of the university. We’re not trying to crank out people as effete, feckless and dull as we are. We’re trying to arm our students with the ability to become self-directed, fulfilled, lifelong learners, as well as college students worth bragging about.

A number of muckety-mucks from Research-1 institutions are pooling their brainpower to give the humanities a boost, according to the Chronicle. This is swell and all, but I agree with the first comment that other types of schools need to be represented. I have a feeling that the smart students are the ones who are going to be taking their core courses, including the core humanities courses, at less expensive institutions of higher ed before moving on to the R1s. Their instructors will be a part of the field and should be included.

Thus ends my mid-afternoon proclamation. Perhaps I will see folks tonight at Virtual Drinking Skeptically? http://virtualds.org/ I think Eve will be participating as well.

RJB

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